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Doctors misdiagnose common regional illness

Valley fever is a fungal infection that affects several residents of southwestern states, including New Mexico, each year. If mistreated or left untreated, valley fever can be deadly. Because many doctors aren't trained in this region of the United States, they could fail to recognize valley fever, leading to the death of a loved one due to medical malpractice.

Just one week after her return from the southwest, a woman from the Pacific Northwest had an unexplained debilitating sickness. She had been visiting her son, a graduate student. Doctors told her she had pneumonia, and after she took an antibacterial medication for the pneumonia, her illness became more serious. Ultimately, the woman found out that she had valley fever, not pneumonia.

In parts of the southwest, valley fever is one of the most common diseases. Thirty people are estimated to die each year from the illness, and more than 10,000 people contract it each year. The medical condition is often misdiagnosed. Negligent physicians sometimes misidentify valley fever as pneumonia or influenza because their symptoms are so similar. A blood test is often necessary to detect valley fever.

Because valley fever is so common in the southwest, the University of Arizona is increasing its efforts to train medical professionals, and individuals outside of the healthcare industry, on how to spot valley fever, which could prevent the loss of a loved one.

Misdiagnosis could prove fatal to people who come down with valley fever. Medical professionals would be wise to learn more about this illness so they can quickly identify it and treat their patients accordingly.

Source: AZStarNet.com, "UA-led effort seeks valley fever diagnoses," Courtney L'Ecuyer, Feb. 27, 2013

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